POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2012
There’s no calm in the eye of this Hurricane.
Big bodies will bash, smash and clash in the paint tonight at 7:30 when host Hawaii takes on Miami in the first round of the 2012 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
College basketball might be a guard-driven game these days, but the Rainbow Warriors (5-3) and Hurricanes (7-1) are turning back the clock to an era when big men ruled the hoops world. The two teams are in the top 25 nationally in roster height.
The Hurricanes of the Atlantic Coast Conference have five players standing 6 feet 10 or taller, making them the rare team equipped to match UH body for body in the post — and then some.
“I think it’s two heavyweights,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We’re both in the top 5 percent (in size) in all the major college basketball teams. We need to have our guys play big, because Hawaii certainly has the capability. You saw that against Illinois (UH’s 78-77 overtime loss).”
Excitement about a strong DHC field at UH practices this week was tempered by the enormity of the task of corralling Hurricane bigs Reggie Johnson (6-10, 292 pounds) and Kenny Kadji (6-11, 242).
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES DIAMOND HEAD CLASSIC
>> 1 p.m.: San Diego St. (9-1) vs. San Francisco (5-4)
>> 5:30 p.m.: Arizona (9-0) vs. East Tennessee St. (2-7)
>> 7:30 p.m.: Miami (7-1) vs. Hawaii (5-3)
>> TV: All on ESPNU
>> Radio: UH game, KKEA, 1420-AM
“For us, it’s rare that we’re actually smaller than the other team, but this is a case where we’ll be the smaller of the two teams,” UH coach Gib Arnold said.
This edition of the eight-team DHC is considered by many, including Arnold, as the strongest in its four years of operation as UH’s new signature tournament. Even if UH finds success against The U and its five double-digit scorers, the road to a first DHC title could be incredibly steep Sunday and on Christmas Day.
Fourth-ranked Arizona has a signature comeback win against then-No. 5 Florida last week. Miami, meanwhile, has lost only to Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 13 in a game where some of its key personnel were out. The Hurricanes haven’t lost since, including an upset over No. 13 Michigan State on Nov. 28, and are receiving votes in the AP Top 25.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 18 San Diego State has won nine straight since dropping its season opener to now-No. 3 Syracuse on the flight deck of the USS Midway. Mississippi’s only blemish was a three-point loss at Middle Tennessee State. And San Francisco has the top rebounder in the country in Cole Dickerson.
UH will play either Arizona or East Tennessee State on Sunday.
“You got four teams in the top 40 in Sagarin ratings,” tournament director David Matlin said. “I would say this is probably the best field we’ve had. Every year we’ve grown, and that’s been kind of our goal.”
The ’Bows seek their first significant win this season after coming up short against both Illinois (now No. 10) and UNLV (No. 21).
It will be the first Diamond Head for most of the UH roster. Every game in the tournament is televised on either ESPNU or ESPN2.
“I’m excited. I’ve never been a part of it before but everyone else is saying I should be excited,” freshman forward Isaac Fotu said. “It’s good teams, so we’ve got a chance to prove ourselves on the national level, and of course get on TV at the same time.”
If UH is to have a discernible advantage up front, it will have to be in quickness. The bulky Johnson’s weight estimate is by all accounts a conservative one, and he’s flanked by another shot blocker in Kadji.
“We know that they’re big and strong, that guy’s like 300 pounds or something, so we’re going to try to use our speed against them with Christian (Standhardinger) and myself and Vander (Joaquim) running the court more,” Fotu said. “Use more speed. With Chaminade our plan was to get inside. This time it’s probably opposite.”
UH defeated the Division II Silverswords 104-93 last Saturday on Molokai, despite allowing a UH-opponent-record 16 3-pointers. The ’Swords had no one taller than 6-8.
One big question mark on UH’s end going into this one actually doesn’t pertain to the big men, but the use of senior point guard Jace Tavita. Tavita was demoted to the scout team at the start of the week after being ejected in the Chaminade game.
“His role is, I would say, diminished for this tournament,” Arnold said. “Like anything else it’s a learning moment, a teaching moment. He’s still a big part of this team.”
Backup point Garrett Jefferson saw increased reps in practice this week as a result. It’s possible the junior will start.
“I’m ready for it if he does ask me to,” Jefferson said. “I’m just getting prepared like how I normally prepare for a game. Just trying to stay focused.”
Miami has dynamic guard Durand Scott back from suspension, giving the Hurricanes a double-digit scorer at every position. The ’Canes, winners of six straight, arrived in Honolulu on Thursday night.